By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, May 15 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Thursday that opens the door to a stronger U.N. presence in Somalia and possible deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in the lawless Horn of Africa country.
Somalia’s transitional government is expected to welcome the resolution, even though the text contains no hard promises that the council will eventually deploy U.N. peacekeepers in Somalia as the government has repeatedly requested.
While all 15 council members agree the situation is dire, most have been reluctant to send U.N. peacekeepers to Somalia, where warlords, Islamist insurgents and Ethiopian-backed Somali government forces clash almost daily.
Talk of outside intervention is still colored by memories of a battle in 1993 in which 18 U.S. troops and hundreds of Somali militiamen died. The incident inspired a book and a Hollywood movie -- "Black Hawk Down" -- and marked the beginning of the end for a combined U.S.-U.N. peacekeeping force.
In the resolution adopted on Thursday, the Security Council explicitly backed a recent report by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on his preparations for a U.N. force that would replace African Union peacekeepers, known as AMISOM.
It also calls for Ban "to continue his contingency planning for the possible deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation in Somalia to succeed AMISOM."
The resolution includes language proposed by South Africa, a strong advocate of sending U.N. troops to Somalia, in which the council explicitly says it will "consider ... a peacekeeping operation to take over from AMISOM" if conditions are right.
South Africa’s U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo told reporters afterward he was very pleased the council said for the first time it would think about sending troops to Somalia if conditions on the ground are deemed acceptable.
"It sends a signal to the people of Somalia that we’ve heard their cries," he said.
In February the Security Council extended for six months U.N. endorsement of the AU peacekeeping mission. It consists of two Ugandan battalions, totaling 1,600 troops, and an advance party of 192 Burundians.
The British-drafted text says the council is also concerned about human rights in Somalia and the "worsening humanitarian situation." It also says the country "continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security in the region."
It urges U.N. member states to boost support for AMISOM.
The British text also threatens to impose sanctions against those who try to undermine "a peaceful political process, or those who threaten (peacekeepers) ... by force, or take action that undermines the stability in Somalia or the region."
It says the council wants a list of "individuals or entities" to be targeted by sanctions within 60 days.
It also asks the council to back Ban’s recommendation that the U.N. Somalia operations be moved from Nairobi to Mogadishu, a measure aimed at boosting the U.N.’s visibility in Somalia.
France and the United States are drafting a companion resolution that will deal exclusively with the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia and elsewhere. The second resolution would authorize countries to actively pursue pirates.
A surge in maritime hijackings for ransom off Somalia has made it one of the world’s most dangerous shipping zones. (Editing by David Wiessler)